Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Front Page - BY RON WHITTEN

Cham­bers bay is un­known by most, un­proven to many, and un­de­ni­ably a strange con­coc­tion. Why is it po­si­tioned to set so many US Open records? The play­ers have yet to tee off, but the 2015 US Open, the first in the Pa­cific North­west, is al­ready mak­ing his­tory. A decade ago the course, as im­prob­a­ble and un­con­ven­tional as they come, didn’t ex­ist. Now it’s host­ing the US Open? In­con­ceiv­able. If it hasn’t hap­pened be­fore in an Open, it’s prob­a­bly hap­pen­ing from June 18-21 at Cham­bers Bay.

1 IT’S THE FIRST US OPEN TO BE CON­TESTED IN A SAND BOX. Cham­bers Bay lies in an old sand and gravel pit on the west­ern edge of the Ta­coma, Wash­ing­ton, sub­urb of Uni­ver­sity Place. It’s a tilted bowl, open on the west, with rail­road tracks and gor­geous Puget Sound be­yond. To the east is a high, long cliff. Atop its rim is Grand­view Drive, where rub­ber­neck­ers can stand with binoc­u­lars and scout for Rory, Phil & Co some 25 me­tres be­low.

The pit was first mined in the 1890s, and over the next cen­tury it’s said to have pro­vided 90 per­cent of the ma­te­rial used to cre­ate the sky­line of Seat­tle, 65 kilo­me­tres north. Lucky for golfers, it was mostly gravel – not sand – that was re­moved. Af­ter the Pierce County waste­water dis­trict bought the 365-hectare site in 1992, min­ing con­tin­ued un­til 2001, af­ter a pit-bull pros­e­cu­tor named John Laden­burg was elected as the chief county ex­ec­u­tive and de­cided the wa­ter­front prop­erty should be re­de­vel­oped for public recre­ation, in­clud­ing ball fields, hik­ing trails and a golf course.

In 2003, the county is­sued a bid to de­sign and build the course, and 55 firms re­sponded. Those who walked the site were blown away, not by winds off the sound (which are com­mon) but by the tex­ture of the soil: pure sand, the ideal sur­face to grow tight turf, re­move in­tense rain­fall, and pro­vide bounce to ev­ery golf ball and spring to each step.

This will not be the first US Open played on sandy soil. Shin­necock Hills on Long Is­land has been an Open site as far back as 1896, as re­cently as 2004 and will host again in 2018. But Shin­necock con­sists of holes that were staked along tree-dot­ted sand hills, fol­low­ing lines of least re­sis­tance. Cham­bers Bay was dot­ted with piles of min­ing spoils, free to be sifted, shifted and moulded to cre­ative whims. A sand box, in which 1.15 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres were pushed around.

2 IT’S THE FIRST COURSE DE­SIGNED SPECIF­I­CALLY TO HOST A US OPEN. In Jan­uary 2004, Laden­burg and an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee in­ter­viewed five fi­nal­ists. They were Robert Trent Jones II (a firm con­sist­ing of part­ners Robert Trent Jones Jr and Bruce Charl­ton); Hur­dzan/Fry De­sign, at the time cre­at­ing Erin Hills, which will be the Open site in 2017; Bob Cupp, who de­signed the 36 holes at Pump­kin Ridge near Port­land, long con­sid­ered a front-run­ner for an Open; Phil Mick­el­son, at that point yet to win a ma­jor; and lo­cal favourite John Har­bot­tle.

Laden­burg no­ti­fied each firm that a US Open was his goal, and that he wanted a links-like course. So each of the five pro­pos­als en­vi­sioned a Bri­tish Open-like lay­out. The rec­om­men­da­tions of the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee were not unan­i­mous. Laden­burg, who had the fi­nal say, se­lected the Trent Jones firm.

What was the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor? It was not, as has been widely re­ported, that the Jones team con­cluded by hand­ing each com­mit­tee mem­ber a metal bag tag, em­bossed with the Pierce County logo and the words “Cham­bers Creek” (the work­ing ti­tle of the project at the time) and “US Open 2030.”

“That was a cute ges­ture, but it wasn’t a fac­tor,” Laden­burg says. “Be­sides, they got it wrong by 15 years.”

What swayed Laden­burg was the vast global ex­pe­ri­ence of Trent Jones Jr. He’d done links de­signs be­fore, in Cal­i­for­nia and abroad. None of the oth­ers had.

From day one, the pres­sure was on to cre­ate a course good enough to at­tract the Open. Leav­ing noth­ing to chance, Charl­ton soon spoke to Ron Read, then a re­gional direc­tor of the USGA, who in turn con­tacted Mike Davis, now the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. When con­struc­tion started in Jan­uary 2006, Davis and Read walked the prop­erty with the de­sign­ers. “This has po­ten­tial,” Davis said. “Don’t screw it up.”

3 IT’S THE FIRST ROBERT TRENT JONES JR DE­SIGN TO HOST A US OPEN. Hard to be­lieve that in a hugely suc­cess­ful ca­reer of over 50 years, with 300plus de­signs and re­designs to his credit, Trent Jr (or Bobby, as most call him), never had a course that even sniffed a US Open. For Bobby, 75, this Open is a life­time achieve­ment award of sorts.

But like Amish barns and chil­dren ev­ery­where, it takes a vil­lage to raise a golf course, and Bobby is gen­er­ous in shar­ing credit for the col­lab­o­ra­tive de­sign. “Ev­ery­thing was de­bated,” he says. “Con­stantly. Some­times with great pas­sion.”

Equally hard to be­lieve is that Cham­bers Bay is a Trent Jones Jr de­sign. It bears no re­sem­blance to any­thing he has pre­vi­ously pro­duced. Cham­bers Bay is ragged, jagged, rustic and un­kempt, seem­ingly un­fin­ished in some cor­ners and pur­pose­fully quirky in oth­ers. Flow­ery bunkers that Bobby first sketched were re­placed by mas­sive sandy waste ar­eas, in­spired by Pine Val­ley, he says, to fit the scale of the site. They built enor­mous fair­ways, some 100 me­tres wide, but full of trap­doors, false prom­ises and awk­ward an­gles into im­pos­si­bly com­plex greens.

At his age, Bobby will never match his fa­mous fa­ther’s Open record. Robert Trent Jones Sr was the orig­i­nal “Open doc­tor,” with nine US Opens on cour­ses he re­mod­elled, start­ing with Oak­land Hills in 1951, and four on orig­i­nal de­signs: Con­gres­sional, Bel­lerive, Hazel­tine and At­lanta Ath­letic Club.

But Cham­bers Bay does put Bobby 1 up on his equally fa­mous brother, Rees, the sec­ond Open doc­tor, who has treated 10 Open venues thus far, but none of his de­sign. (Although Rees says his ex­ten­sive re­mod­elling of Con­gres­sional and Tor­rey Pines makes them tan­ta­mount to his de­signs.)

4 IT’S THE FIRST ALL-FES­CUE US OPEN COURSE. The fes­cue turf, ideal in a mar­itime cli­mate, is com­mon on the links of Scot­land, Ire­land and the English coast­line, but not on cour­ses in Amer­ica.

To­day, ev­ery­thing could be mowed at greens height if de­sired. For the Open, the highly con­toured greens will be mowed at 4.5 mil­lime­tres, which will trans­late to a Stimp­me­ter read­ing of 12, and there will be no­tice­able grain. There will be a belt of fes­cue rough at about 8 to 10 cen­time­tres (nar­row­ing some of the widest fair­ways to 40 or 50 me­tres), then taller stuff fur­ther out.

“The beauty of fine fes­cue, be­sides need­ing less wa­ter and less fer­til­i­sa­tion than other grasses, is that it’s the least tacky grass I know of,” Davis says. “You get a won­der­ful bounce on it.”

Adds Bobby: “When a ball lands, it won’t be clear when or where it’s go­ing to stop.”

The idea is to “force play­ers to hit away from the flag­stick to end up near the flag­stick,” Bobby says. “The older I get, the more I like the ground game.”

For the Open, Cham­bers Bay will not be the dry, parched, butterscotch colour that it was dur­ing the US Am­a­teur in Au­gust 2010 (see page 50). The area’s win­ter rains usu­ally end in May, with June as a tran­si­tion month. Davis guesses the course will be rel­a­tively green for the Open, cer­tainly greener than Pine­hurst No 2 was last year.

“There’s very lit­tle chance we’ll wa­ter the fair­ways at all dur­ing the spring, or dur­ing the US Open,” Davis says. “We’ll watch the putting-green firm­ness and wa­ter there if needed, and the sur­rounds, some on the tees. We’re not fo­cused on colour. We want it bouncy. It can be bouncy and green or bouncy and tan; we don’t care.”

This year’s win­ner, Davis pre­dicts, will be a player who makes two or three trips to play and study the course in ad­vance. “If any­one thinks they can learn this course in three prac­tice rounds,” he says, “they’re crazy.”

5 IT’S THE YOUNGEST COURSE TO BE AWARDED THE OPEN. Cham­bers Bay opened for play on June 23, 2007. Less than eight months later, on Fe­bru­ary 7, 2008, the USGA an­nounced it was award­ing the 2010 US Am­a­teur and the 2015 US Open to the place. The se­lec--

tion was helped con­sid­er­ably when Con­gres­sional, un­der con­tract for the 2010 Am­a­teur, begged off be­cause of pending greens re­con­struc­tion, and Winged Foot and Shin­necock de­clined to pur­sue the 2015 Open.

The tim­ing of the Cham­bers Bay an­nounce­ment was dic­tated by law. As a county-owned golf course (in­ci­den­tally, the first county-owned course to host a US Open), it had to im­me­di­ately dis­close its con­tracts to the public.

The tim­ing was for­tu­itous. The eco­nomic re­ces­sion had al­ready hit the area. Cham­bers Bay was not meet­ing ex­pec­ta­tions or ex­penses, and there was grum­bling that Laden­burg had wasted $22 mil­lion on the course.

“The USGA, by its an­nounce­ment, saved the golf course,” Jones says. With­out that, and some funds that the USGA later ad­vanced, “I don’t think Cham­bers Bay would be here to­day. It would have been a hard po­lit­i­cal fight to keep it. You don’t cut fire­men’s pay but keep run­ning a golf course.”

Af­ter the an­nounce­ment, Cham­bers Bay steadily be­came a na­tional golf des­ti­na­tion, if not a money-maker. Last year, it showed a profit for the first time.

Cham­bers Bay will not be the youngest course to serve as an Open site. That distinc­tion re­mains with North­wood Club in Dal­las, which opened in 1948 and hosted the Open just four years later. Cham­bers Bay will turn eight years old two days af­ter this year’s Open concludes.

6 IT’S THE FIRST US OPEN COURSE TO HAVE HOLES THAT WILL AL­TER­NATE PAR. For the Open, Davis will con­vert the fourth, nor­mally a par 5, into a par 4, so the course will play as a par 70. “It’s a much more in­ter­est­ing drive zone when you move the tee up,” he says.

To­tal dis­tance will vary ev­ery day. The max­i­mum length is 7 940 yards (7 260 me­tres), but for the Open, the dis­tance will range from 7 200 to 7 700 (6 600 to 7 050), depend­ing on weather, wind con­di­tions and tee and hole lo­ca­tions.

For a time, Davis toyed with the idea of play­ing the course as a par 71 on cer­tain days and par 70 for other rounds be­cause he was un­de­cided on whether to play the first and 18th holes as long par 5s each day (par 71), or one of them as a par 4 (par 70). Then it oc­curred to him, be­cause the two holes are par­al­lel in op­po­site di­rec­tions, he could al­ter­nate the par each day and still re­tain the over­all par of 70.

“When we play the first hole as a par 4, 18 will be a par 5, and vice versa,” Davis says. “Both holes are so neat ar­chi­tec­turally, both as par 4s and par 5s. It speaks vol­umes for the in­cred­i­ble flex­i­bil­ity of the de­sign.”

The straight­away par-4 first hole be­comes a dog­leg-left par 5 from a new back tee, with dif­fer­ent fair­way slopes in sep­a­rate land­ing ar­eas. The 604-yard (552m), par-5 18th has com­pletely dif­fer­ent fair­way bunker­ing when played as a 525-yard (480m) par 4.

“I don’t know which rounds we’ll switch them,” Davis says. “Would I rather have 18 as a par 4 or a par 5 on the fi­nal day? I don’t know. If it’s a par 5, there’s a pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing his­tory, mak­ing ea­gle or birdie to win the Open. That’s never hap­pened.

“But part of me says, Hey, this is the US Open. It ought to be set up so a hard-earned par 4 wins it all. I’ve chewed on that over and over. I sus­pect we’ll look at what the wind con­di­tions will be the last cou­ple of days, and de­cide then.”

In re­cent years, Davis added a last­minute bunker on the 17th at Olympic in 2012 and turned the famed par-4 fifth at Pine­hurst No 2 into a par 5 last year. For Cham­bers Bay, he di­rected that a deep bunker be in­stalled in the mid­dle of the fair­way about 110 me­tres short of the 18th green.

“When play­ing 18 as a par 5, there needed to be some­thing in the lay-up area,” he says. “The fair­way was 85 yards wide in that sec­ond land­ing area. A guy could be blind­folded and couldn’t miss the fair­way. I didn’t want to bas­tardise the hole by bring­ing in rough. So we sug­gested stick­ing some­thing in the mid­dle, so they’d have to play around, or short, or left, or right.”

A crew dug the two-me­tre-deep di­ag­o­nal bunker where Davis wanted it, but he wanted some­thing so deep even a great player couldn’t reach the green. So the crew dug some more. The bunker is now three me­tres deep. Cu­ri­ously, though Davis de­fends its place­ment and depth, he doesn’t think it will see any ac­tion. “If there is one, sin­gle, soli­tary player in the US Open in that bunker, I’ll be amazed,” he says. “But they’re go­ing to have to think about it. And that’s the whole idea.”

Al­fred Hitch­cock called that sort of de­vice a MacGuf­fin. Lo­cal cad­dies call it the Cham­bers Base­ment.


WORK. With only one pre­vi­ous golf broad­cast, Fox is as untested as Cham­bers Bay. Pro­ducer Mark Loomis has plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing done golf for ABC and ESPN, but on-air co-hosts Joe Buck and Greg Nor­man are rook­ies, as is tower an­nouncer Brad Faxon. Steve Flesch, Scott McCarron, Juli Inkster, Corey Pavin, Shane O’Donoghue and Holly Son­ders have done golf com­men­tary, but noth­ing on this scale.

Fox prom­ises to ex­plore “new av­enues” in­clud­ing drone cam­era views (at far lower an­gles than he­li­copter views) and even some drone shots fol­low­ing play­ers at a dis­creet dis­tance. The USGA isn’t com­fort­able with mi­cro­phones on cad­dies, but long-range mics will eaves­drop on the dis­cus­sions be­tween play­ers and cad­dies.

Fox also plans 3-D ef­fects to show the ex­treme con­tours. “We want to make those greens come to life,” Loomis says. In March, the net­work was set­ting up a laser net­work that will plot ball flight and roll and pro­vide in­stant ShotLink­type dis­tance data. “We won’t have a lot of statis­tics danc­ing around the screen,” Loomis says, “but we’ll pro­vide perti-


nent in­for­ma­tion.”

Son­ders will be pre­par­ing fea­ture items in ad­vance, han­dling on-course and post-round in­ter­views and an­chor­ing the net­work’s nightly wrap-up pro­gramme. Also ex­pect to hear Nor­man an­a­lyse Cham­bers Bay as a player and as an ar­chi­tect. “We won’t force it,” Loomis says, “but at this stage in his life, he can’t help but look at it from both per­spec­tives.”

8 CHAM­BERS BAY IS THE FIRST US OPEN COURSE WITH ONLY ONE TREE. It’s not that Cham­bers Bay was tree­less to begin with, but the only ma­ture tree was a soli­tary, wind-warped fir near what be­came the 16th tee. The de­sign­ers de­cided to keep it. The tree was van­dalised in 2008 when some­one hacked it with an ax, but it re­cov­ered and is the back­ground for the wed­ding pho­tos of project ar­chi­tect Jay Blasi, who mar­ried his wife, Amy – whom he’d met on the job – on the 15th tee be­fore the 2010 Am­a­teur.


The site circa 1963 (inset, with Mount Rainier in the back­ground) be­fore be­ing trans­formed into an Open course.

A moun­tain of min­ing ma­te­rial is no longer there, but course Ar­chi­tect Robert Trent Jones Jr. kept some of the op­er­a­tion’s con­crete relics, which are next to what is now the 18th tee.

Rugged & ragged: three par 4s will be shorter than The 399-me­tre 10th. Five of the par 4s will be 450

me­tres or more.

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